Breaking Down Freestyle Arm Action: Steve Wallen Swim School in Roseville and El Dorado Hills
The freestyle is arguably the most utilized and most favored of the swim strokes, and as it is so visible, it may seem relatively straight forward to learn. Unfortunately, many swim freestyle with less than effective arm action. Most of the arm’s complex action occurs underwater, beyond our sight.
While many factors will negatively influence your freestyle strokes, such as lifting your head, a weak kick, and poor trunk control, nothing is as essential as efficient arm actions. As a beginner freestyler, you will learn a simpler version of the freestyle pull: straight arms moving like a windmill, always moving and always in opposition to one another.
As you progress, and once you have the basics mastered, your swim instructor will introduce freestyle pull’s finer nuances.
#1. The Hands
Here is a source of debate among swim experts: should I keep my hands cupped when I pull, or should I splay my fingers out as wide as I can? It seems intuitive to hold the hand cupped, like a scoop, blade, or oar to maximize our pull.
However, it is most efficient to hold our hand slightly cupped, with fingers slightly spread as this will create the most surface area and therefore pull the most water.
Remember not to allow your wrist to “break” or bend during the pull, as this will decrease the amount of water that you can pull.
#2. The Pull
The pull starts with a phase known as the catch, which is how your hand and arm first enter the water.
Your arm should have a significant elbow bend, with your elbow high, and your forearm sloped down so that your fingertips enter the water first, and your forearm in a straight line with elbows higher than wrists, wrists higher than fingertips. This is not a gentle action, but do think about slicing into the water smoothly. Reach forward as far as you can, then pull down as deep as possible. Your arm action should facilitate a deep catch with your fingertips pointing down. It may be helpful to think of the underwater arm action as first being a strong, powerful pull, and when the arm begins to pass your ribcage, it becomes a strong, powerful push. If you are moving your arms correctly during freestyle, you will be less likely to experience any shoulder discomfort as the shoulder is moving within its range of motion. Rolling your body will also allow for your shoulder joint to move freely during the stroke.
Once you have reached and pulled back on as much water as you possibly can, the push phase of the stroke begins.
#3. The Push
The push phase comes after your pull through the water; think of pushing the water behind you in order to drive yourself forward through the water. A common error in the push phase is a failure to finish. As you push the water back, ensure that you reach back all the way to your hips. If you are pushing only to your waist, you lose out on a significant amount of propulsion. At the end of the push, your arm should be fully extended. Your arm should reach a full triceps extension with your hand passing
your hip on every single pull, fingers pointing straight behind you. Only then do you lift your arm out of the water to begin the recovery phase.
#4. The Recovery
This is the time when your arm is not actively propelling you forward through the water and when the arm is getting somewhat of a rest. If you can, and this takes practice, allow your shoulder and other arm muscles to relax as you move the arm through the recovery phase. Imagine a string is attached to your elbow, and the other end of the string is attached to the ceiling.
As you move your arm through the recovery phase, the string shortens, pulls your elbow, and thus your arm up and out of the water. Try trailing your fingertips just at the surface as you move through the recovery phase. With a high elbow and your fingertips pointed down, you will move along the surface of the water until your fingertips are in line with your shoulder, at which point you move into the pull phase again.
Refine your freestyle pull by signing up for swimming lessons at Steve Wallen Swim School!
Interested in having your stroke recorded and then reviewed with a swim instructor? Our video analysis will allow you to see where your skills can be improved. Seeing your stroke with your own eyes is an innovative approach to learning and developing your stroke.